I recorded this song in April 2010 at a mobile health clinic near Chizimba village, near Embangweni, Mzimba District, Northern Malawi. It will be part of the soundtrack to our documentary on health in Malawi, tentatively titled Delivering Malawi.
Its origins are disputed, with some saying that it was developed at mobile clinics within the last 10 years or so, while others believe that Chester Lungu, a member of the local educational theater troupe UMOZA, painter, tailor, and hospital laundryman until his death in June 2010, composed it, and it spread through UMOZA's performances. What people agree on is that it is a good song, both considering the music and lyrics. Chester had recently recorded a version with synthesized accompaniment that played on the radio widely in the region, including in Zambia.
On this day approximately 60 women attended the clinic. When they sing, they are seated on the ground outside the clinic, many holding babies. I have yet to analyze this song and others of the outreach clinic repertoire in depth and conduct broad research into regional music; however, I can say that it is antiphonal in structure, with call and response between one leader (a health professional facilitating the clinic) and the chorus, who sing in harmonies of usually three parts, though at times it sounds as if a fourth voice enters. The celebratory, emphatic ululating heard is common, not only in the context of song, and not only in Malawi, but throughout much of Africa. The male and female names sung by the caller vary, though Joyce and NyaMoyo are fixed. Those mentioned in this version are Joyce, NyaMoyo, Gegiwe, NyaKoto, NyaPhiri, and NyaNgoma. The only accompaniment is hand-clapping, which begins before the singing, sets the tempo, and then doubles in frequency (though the tempo remains the same) for the refrain. The range of the caller's voice establishes the pitch and key of the song, which in this recording was sung in what appears to be F# minor. The melodic range spans about one-half octave.
Lyrics: [Spoken] Azimay, mwaleka kuyimba mmaoko? Ladies, have you stopped singing? Awe, azimayi, awe... O, ladies, o... Ndimo tikuchitira na walendo thena? Is that how you welcome visitors?
Verse 1: (Joyce na NyaMoyo) (Joyce and NyaMoyo) Joyce na NyaMoyo, wakachitanga vichi kuluta kusikelo? Joyce and NyaMoyo, what were you doing neglecting antenatal care? [Repeat]
Refrain: (Joyce) Aye aye, wawela waka Oh, oh, (Joyce) has miscarried (NyaMoyo) Aye aye, wambula bonda Oh, oh, (NyaMoyo) has no baby (Gegiwe) Aye aye, wawela waka Oh, oh, (Gegiwe) has miscarried (Gegiwe) Aye aye, wambula bonda Oh, oh, (Gegiwe) has no baby
Verse 2: (Ise lero taleka) (We will never) Ise lero taleka kukhala kusikelo, wanyithu wana bonda We will never neglect antenatal again, because our friends have babies (Ine lero naleka) (I will never) Ine lero naleka kukhala kusikelo, wanyithu wana bonda I will never neglect antenatal again, because our friends have babies
Verse 3: (Amama na wadada) (Women and men) Amama na wadada, tikolane mawoko kuluta kusikelo Women and men, let us encourage each other to go for antenatal care [Repeat]
Verse 2' (Ise lero taleka) (We will never) Ise lero taleka kukhala kusikelo, wanyithu wana bonda We will never neglect antenatal again, because our friends have babies [Repeat]
The transcription of the lyrics was provided by Benson NyaMula, the hospital's physical therapist, and the translation provided by Chikomeni Manda, an aspiring filmmaker I met in the nearby city of Mzimba. Henrique Andrade mastered this recording.